It’s time to re-introduce one of the most popular math games that I know of: the card game called SET.

SET is a card game of logic, geometric shapes, and visual perception. It’s a fast moving game in which neither age nor academic excellence is necessarily an advantage. SET is simple and clever: each of the 81 cards has one to three icons that can be any of 3 different colors (red, green, purple), any of 3 different amounts (single, double, triple), any of 3 different shades (solid, hollow, striped), and any of 3 different shapes (diamond, oval, squiggle).

For example, a single card could have two red striped diamonds, and another card could have three purple solid ovals. Three different possible variations on each of four criteria is 3•3•3•3 = 81 different cards.

Lay the 12 or 15 cards out in a rectangular grade. The goal is to find three cards (always three) that are either all three the same or all three different for each of the four criteria (color, amount, shade, shape).

The game is actually easier to play than it is to explain, and while SET is not hard to learn, it still continues to challenge both experienced players  and novices of all ages. Because SET can be played alone or in groups of 2 or more, it is a great activity for a classroom tournament, or a family game night, or a solitaire session on a dull afternoon.

I first taught my younger son to play the game at age 7. Although I was no slouch at playing SET, this… kid… consistently beat the pants off me. Both of us delighted in a young boy being able to beat Dad so convincingly.

   SET earned Game of the Year awards from numerous game organizations and magazines in the early 1990s. This game is for adults, adolescents, and kids as young as age 7.

SET isn’t a game involving quantitative math (numbers, ratios, calculations, etc.) – but it is a math game because it involves logic, perception, and visual discrimination. Visual discrimination is the ability to look at a group of items and then group or re-group – or even un-group – them according to some specific criteria. In SET, players have to find three cards that can be grouped together according to four separate criteria. The multi-tasking involved in keeping track of four separate criteria is great brain building. For the most part, all that brain-building is dominated by a game that is sheer, challenging fun.